Learning how to soften polymer clay is essential if you want to get the best results from this medium and if you want your clay to be soft and workable. This tutorial will show you 6 easy ways to transform hard or crumbly clay into soft, conditioned clay ready for use.
How To Soften Polymer Clay Tutorial
Polymer clay has been used by crafters for decades to make projects which range from figurines to jewelry to anything in between that you may wish to sculpt or mold. When clay is exposed to sunlight or warm air, it can harden or crumble.
If you have just rediscovered your stash of clay after many months, and it has become hard and old and dry, you don’t have to throw it out. It can be restored to its original state by using some simple clay conditioning techniques.
Softening polymer clay is also referred to as conditioning.
What Does It Mean to Condition Polymer Clay?
Conditioning the clay is the process by which you make it easy to work with. It removes any trapped air in the clay and evenly mixes the ingredients.
Even if you have just opened the clay packet, you may find it stiff and difficult to work with. This means you will need to condition it to receive optimum results.
Conditioning the polymer clay ensures maximum softness and flexibility. It means you are mixing and massaging the clay to make it more workable.
Why Is Softening Polymer Clay Important?
Firstly, it makes the clay easier to work with. Secondly, if not conditioned properly, your finished creations may be brittle and break easily. You will have many more problems with your models if your clay is unconditioned.
Conditioning polymer clay makes it more elastic, smoother to work with, and more capable of sticking to itself.
Polymer clay can sometimes be too soft and needs to be conditioned to be stiffer to hold its shape.
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How to Soften Polymer Clay 6 Easy Ways
Learn how to soften clay with these 6 easy methods:
- Mixing with Clay Softener
- Commercial Clay Softener
- Clay Conditioning Machine
- Food Processors
Deciding on the Best Method to Soften Polymer Clay:
The best method for softening clay depends on how hard it is. If is it only a bit hard, use methods 1 or 2 which involve hitting and warming your polymer clay.
For firmer and really old polymer clay, try a combination of clay softeners and a conditioning machine or food processor.
1. How to Make Polymer Clay Soft with Smashing
Smashing is the initial step in conditioning any clay which is a bit older and has firmed up too much to be easily workable.
Place the clay in a plastic bag and “smash” it or pound it with a rubber mallet or rolling pin until it becomes pliable. Once it is broken up and has warmed a bit, continue to condition it by hand by kneading or rolling.
2. Warming to Make Polymer Clay Softer
You can put the clay in your pocket or hold it in your hands to allow your body heat to soften it. You can even spend some time sitting on it! If that doesn’t work, try placing a hot water bottle over the clay for 15- 20 minutes.
Rolling the clay back and forth in your hands will also warm it up. Once it starts to soften, keep going and roll it into a ball and then a snake. Knead and twist it, and keep doing this until the clay is fully conditioned. You will know when the polymer clay is ready when it becomes soft to the touch.
WARNING: Do not put polymer clay into the oven to warm it, as this will cause it to start curing, and it will become even harder!
3. Mix With Softer Clay
Another quick and easy method to soften polymer clay is to add soft clay to your stiff old clay. Bread into small clay pieces and then knead, roll and mix the two together until the clay is easily workable.
4. Commercial Clay Softener
Most brands of polymer clay also produce softening agents or liquid clay to mix into the clay to condition it. Brand names include Sculpey Clay Softener, Fimo Quick Mix, or Liquid Polymer Clay.
These all have instructions on how to soften polymer clay with this agent printed on the packaging. You will still need to work the clay well by massaging the softener into it and then kneading and rolling until it is completely blended.
5. Clay Conditioning Machine
There are specific machines that have been developed for use with polymer clay. If you are serious about your clay crafting, or you want to turn this craft into a business, a clay roller would be the way to go.
Alternatively, you could use a pasta-making machine, which effectively rolls and squeezes the clay to condition it.
It is essential that you use this pasta machine for clay only and not for pasta making! Using a pasta machine will smooth out the clay, get rid of any air bubbles, and can also create thin, uniform layers if that is what you need for your creation. It also helps merge colors to create a rainbow effect.
To use a pasta maker: Cut the clay into small slices, about ¼” (0.6 cm) thick. Use the widest setting on the machine and pass each piece of clay through it. Fold the clay in half after each pass-through and feed it back into the machine fold first. Keep folding and passing through until the clay is soft and pliable.
6. Softening Polymer Clay with a Food Processor
This method of conditioning your polymer clay is generally only used for extremely hard or dry clay. The spinning blades of the processor will chop, warm, and soften the clay quickly, but you will still need to knead it or run it through a pasta machine to finish off the conditioning process.
Once you have used a food processor to condition your clay, it will no longer be food safe, so do not use it for food again.
How to Keep Polymer Clay Soft (Prevention)
One last note about storing your polymer clay. Since polymer clay doesn't include any water that could evaporate, you don't need to store it in sealed containers. To keep it away from heat and sunshine and to keep dust and lint from getting on it, it should, nevertheless, be wrapped or covered.
Be cautious when keeping polymer clay in plastic bags or containers. Polymer clay can be used with some types of plastic, but with others, the plasticizer in the clay reacts, causing the clay to eventually attach to the container.
For the same reasons, you shouldn't store baked clay together with fresh clay or store different colored clays next to one another. They'll eventually begin to bond together.
Before placing polymer clay in a storage box, you can wrap it with waxed paper. Waxed paper and the plasticizer don't interact at all, though, over time, some plasticizers may seep into the paper. This method can be used to store unbaked completed pieces as well as unworked clay.
Always store away from direct sunlight.
How to Soften Polymer Clay FAQs
How to Soften Polymer Clay Fast?
The fastest way to soften polymer clay is to add some drops of a commercial clay softener such as Sculpey Clay Softener, Fimo Quick Mix, or Liquid Polymer Clay. If you don't have these, break the clay into small pieces and warm them in your hand.
Why Is My Clay So Hard?
Polymer clay gets harder over time, which makes it harder or even impossible to shape and use, especially if it has been left out in the open. Still, many people don't know that even the hardest clay can be saved. You can bring the clay back to life in a number of ways, such as by kneading it by hand or adding oils or other liquids.
Does Water Soften Polymer Clay?
The best way to use water to soften polymer clay is to put your hard clay into a zip lock bag, seal it to make it water-tight, then put the whole bag into warm water!
You can use a few drops of water as an additive to mix into the clay, depending on the brand. Water doesn’t work well with oil-based clay such as Sculpey. It can also make your final result, once cured, brittle and easily breakable. So the answer to this question is - you can use it, but it is not recommended.
Does Vaseline Soften Polymer Clay?
Vaseline (petroleum jelly) is a much better option to soften hard polymer clay! Put a small amount of Vaseline on your fingertips and rub it into a small ball of clay. Cut the clay into smaller pieces and then squash the pieces together. Add more Vaseline, flatten the clay by rolling it out, then knead it again. Repeat until the clay is the desired texture and softness.
What Else Can I Add to Polymer Clay To Soften It?
If you don’t want to use a commercial clay softener and you don’t have any Vaseline, you can use a few drops of mineral oil or baby oil. Chop the clay into tiny bits, either with a knife or a dedicated food processor. Then place the clay into a zip lock bag, add a few drops of oil, seal the bag and leave it for a few days. The oil will leach into the hard clay and soften it up enough to begin the kneading and rolling process to condition it.
Can You Microwave Polymer Clay to Soften it?
This is not recommended. Theoretically, you can put the clay into the microwave on low heat for short bursts of about 5 seconds, but you run the risk of the clay burning or melting.
Can You Microwave Polymer Clay To Harden/Cure it?
Again, this is not a good idea. Most of the packages of clay specifically tell you not to do it. The reason for this is that microwaves create uneven heating, so some of the mass will start to cure and solidify while other parts stay soft. Since the interior of the microwave oven becomes just as hot as the exterior, heating polymer clay in a microwave can cause some of the clay to superheat, melt, and even bubble and boil while other portions of the clay just start to firm up.
That would not only be a horrible idea because it would destroy the project but also because it would release gases that are unpleasant at best and perhaps harmful to your health at worst. Microwaving polymer clay without anything else in there is dangerous.
What If My Polymer Clay Is Too Soft?
Sometimes newly purchased clay is just too soft to work with easily, and it doesn’t hold its shape. In this case, you can try placing it in the fridge or just let it sit out in the open for a while to firm up. If these methods don’t work, roll it into a flat sheet between two layers of baking paper. Place a heavy book on top of this sandwich and leave it overnight. The paper will absorb some of the plasticizers and firm up the clay.
How to Soften Polymer Clay - In Conclusion
Polymer clay is a wonderful craft material with so many different uses. To avoid frustration when working with this material, be sure to learn how to soften polymer clay well before you start sculpting or shaping it. That way, you will have a rewarding experience!
How to Soften Polymer Clay
- Optional: Rolling Pin, Pasta Maker
- Polymer Clay
- Smashing: Place the clay in a plastic bag and pound it with a rolling pin or mallet. Once broken up, continue to condition by hand.
- Warming: Warm the polymer clay with body heat in your hands or by placing it in a plastic bag in your pocket. Knead and twist until soft.
- Mixing: Add softer clay, then knead and mix the clays together.
- Commercial Softener: Add a commercial clay softener and massage in.
- Conditioning Machine: Use a clay conditioning machine to condition the clay.
- Food Processor: Put pieces in your food processor, then knead them together to finish.